Trooper union boss reportedly focus of internal inquiry

Some say it's retaliation for survey on leadership

`There's a lot of concern'

April 17, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The union president who surveyed Maryland state troopers about whether they support Superintendent Edward T. Norris' reorganization of the agency is the subject of an internal investigation for his union activities, officials said yesterday.

Sgt. Jim Wobbleton, an 18-year veteran assigned to the Prince Frederick barracks, is scheduled to be interviewed by internal affairs investigators next week about whether he used state resources as president of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance to conduct the survey.

Some troopers say the internal investigation is retaliation for the survey, which included a question about whether troopers would support a vote of no confidence in the new superintendent. A separate question asked whether they think Norris should resign if he is indicted by the federal grand jury investigating his use of an off-the-books charity fund while he was police commissioner in Baltimore.

Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said he could not comment on the existence of an internal investigation. But he said, "Internal investigations are done to look at allegations of violations of laws or departmental rules and regulations, not because you don't like someone."

Norris videotaped a two-minute message to staff that was distributed last week in response to the survey.

"The president of SLEOLA has sent out a leadership questionnaire that has stated some things that are patently false," the superintendent said. "Because I can't get out to every one of you, I'd like to set the record straight. You can't do your job if you don't know what your future holds," Norris said on the tape.

Norris also refuted rumors that he has plans to accept transfers of officers from other departments, to change uniforms, to eliminate ranks, or to disregard the list of officers eligible for promotions.

Wobbleton declined to comment on the investigation, the survey or Norris' response to it. But in earlier interviews he said Norris had given conflicting replies about those issues.

Results from the nine-question survey could be available as early as today, said Dan Poist, executive director of the labor alliance. But he said, the union wants to present the findings to Norris before making them public.

Some troopers are suspicious of the timing of the internal investigation, occurring as news of the survey became public last week.

"It puts the president of a union in a position where it's unclear what he can and can't talk about," Poist said. "There's a lot of concern about this investigation."

SLEOLA is the official bargaining unit for troopers and state-employed officers. But two Fraternal Order of Police lodges - the Maryland Troopers Association and the Coalition of Black Maryland State Troopers - also represent troopers in various matters and vote on the alliance board. The troopers' association and the alliance are battling over which organization can best represent troopers.

Lt. Nick Paros, president of the troopers' association, was critical of the survey, which he said went beyond issues of working conditions and was worded to elicit negative responses. "It crossed the line from asking troopers questions to spreading false information," Paros said.

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